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WriteCast Episode 64: Writing in the Competency-Based Tempo® Learning Program

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WriteCast Episode 64: Writing in the Competency-Based Tempo® Learning Program

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© Walden University Writing Center 2019


[Introduction music]


CLAIRE: Welcome to Write Cast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, a monthly podcast by the Walden University Writing Center. I’m Claire Helakoski,


KACY: and I’m Kacy Walz.


KACY: Today we’re talking with Tempo Learning student and Writing Instructor Amy Bakke.


KACY: Welcome to the podcast, Amy! I’m so excited to talk with you about your writing experiences so far with Walden’s Tempo Learning program! Could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, Amy?


AMY: Sure, thanks Kacy. I’m a Senior Writing Instructor at the Walden Writing Center, and I also have a background with working with and supporting our multilingual students at Walden. And more recently I am a student in a Tempo program.


KACY: That’s awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about Tempo? What program are you in? And how’s that been going for you?


AMY: Sure! So, I’m in the M.S. in Early Childhood Studies program, and that program has a couple of different tracks. I’m in the administration, management, and leadership track. And, thinking about how that fits in with my current work as a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center, it might seem like maybe a strange turn of events to be in an Early Childhood Studies program. Getting in to the M.S. in Early Childhood Studies program, it was really based on my personal interest in learning about child development. I think it’s reflective of, you know, a lot of us who work in higher ed, we’re life-long learners. And I also found as a parent I was doing a lot of reading and a lot of research about child development and parenting, and I found it to be just a really good fit to have that more structured, curated way of reading about the topic. And so I went ahead and enrolled in the program!


KACY: That’s really great, Amy. And I think that’s one of the best parts about online learning, is you really can take those extra courses, like you said, for a variety of different reasons. Whether it’s professional or personal, as you mentioned. Can you tell us a little bit about how these Tempo programs fit with your own style of learning?


AMY: Yeah! So the Tempo program at Walden is a competency-based program. Really this is an approach to learning the content and to demonstrating what you’ve already learned, to receive a credential. It is very self-paced. So, it’s the same content as would be in a semester or quarter-based program, but the format and delivery is more flexible. And this really allows students to set their own timelines, to make decisions about what content to focus on when, how much time to spend on different competencies. So, for a student who comes in with a lot of knowledge already about the content area, they’re able to demonstrate that knowledge through assessments, and therefore move through maybe a little bit more quickly. Whereas somebody who has less knowledge and experience on the topic, they can really dive into the resources and do a lot learning on the topic before doing or taking the assessment to get that knowledge and understanding. And then I mentioned assessments...assessments are the ways that students can demonstrate their knowledge and basically that’s how they can pass a competency. And so it is structured around individual competencies, and students work through the competencies in order to complete the program.


KACY: So, you mentioned these assessments, could you tell us a little bit about the different types of writing assignments you’ve experienced in your Tempo program? What kinds of assignments can other students expect if they decide to take that kind of track?


AMY: Great question! You know, I’ve seen various types of assessments, and they are often written assignments. They could be short answer, it also might depend on the competency and the field, so I can talk a little bit about what I’ve seen other than short answer I’ve seen at times students may be presented scenarios that they need to respond to, there could be maybe more of what might seem like a final paper, where it would be, you know, 5-7 page reflection and response to some of the content for that competency. So, again it really might depend on which competency you’re working on, as well as what your program is and what your field is, and what kinds of writing are typically done within that program and that field.


KACY: And, as a Writing Instructor, you’ve seen a lot of different types of writing assignments that our Walden students have, can you tell us a little bit about how these assignments might be different from other Walden courses that students might take? Or how they might similar, even?


AMY: Yeah, I can definitely talk a bit about that. And I might say that, I’m maybe not entirely comparing apples to apples in the sense that I have some insight into the Tempo program both as being a student and as being a Writing Instructor for students in the Tempo program, however, when it comes to the quarter and semester-based programs at Walden, I mostly have the lens of a Writing Center Writing Instructor. I do see a few tendencies, but not really major differences between the two types of writing assignments. I would say that quarter and semester-based programs, you know, in what I see in student work, they tend to ask for more kind of essay-style demonstration of what was learned. And I say that as in, kind of like a traditional idea of an academic paper. As well as, discussion posts. And there may be a variety of essay-style assignments. Maybe some reflections essays, maybe there is some integration of lesson plans or, you know, professional development plans, or other types of writing, but they often tend to take kind of more of that essay structure. Whereas, in the Tempo program, I am seeing a little bit more variety. So, I am seeing assignments and tasks that tend to be rather application-based. I may be seeing a little bit more variety in the genres or approaches to writing—or demonstrating learning. But all in all, I think there are probably more similarities than differences.


KACY: That’s really interesting, Amy. Can you talk a little bit more about their similarities?


AMY: Yeah! You know one would be the need for scholarly voice. In an academic writing setting, we always want to present ourselves with scholarly tone, certain level of formality, certainly using evidence and citing sources would be another area where they’re very similar. On the surface level it might seem like the purpose of some of these different assignemnts is different. You know, if we think about the purpose of a lesson plan vs a professional development project, or a business plan, they may seem very different, but because of the academic context, our audience is still rather consistent. We’re writing certainly for our faculty or for our subject-matter-expert in a Tempo program, but in academic writing our audience tends to be a bit more general than that. So, we still might think of our audience as a rather informed and intelligent person, maybe outside of our field. So, you know, if a person outside of my field came across my lesson plan or my business plan, they’d be able to make sense of it, understand it’s purpose, find the information mostly accessible, and so that’s where I’m seeing similarities, in that we are really still writing for an academic audience with scholarly voice. Still needing to use sources and evidence to support the assertions that we’re making. All in all, I actually see them as being rather similar.


KACY: Sure, that makes a lot of sense. And I know audience is something I talk about a lot in paper reviews, and it’s something that is very important. We have lots of resources and different tools that students can access. Do you have any specific resources that you think are particularly helpful for students in the Tempo programs?


AMY: Yeah! You know, I’ve been writing a post for our Writing Center blog on this topic, and one resource that I think would be especially applicable to students in a Tempo program, are the MEAL plan resources that we have. As I mentioned, one of the assessment types that at least I have seen rather often, and I imagine is in other Tempo programs, is the short-answer assessment. So this is where students are asked to respond to maybe seve to ten prompts within a document. And a lot of times they require, you know, a few sentences as a resonse, or maybe a few paragraphs, but, you know, short answers. And so, I found myself relying a lot on evidence, so was just pulling from my notes, thinking about how I can answer the question, and getting a few sentences of paraphrased information, and kind of using that, but then realizing, oh my gosh! I’m not following the practices that I recommend students do every day, right? So using the MEAL plan is especially helpful in thinking about how can I add a topic sentence or kind of, introduce in my own voice the ideas that I’m going to cover in this short answer? How can I build in a little bit more of my own voice at the end by adding some analysis or a lead out sentence? So the MEAL plan strategy resources I think would be especially helpful. When it comes to writing longer papers, so those assignments in a Tempo program where you might be writing a one to two-page response or a longer, more traditional paper, I would recommend keeping in mind building in a bit of context such as including an introductory paragraph even if that’s not requested in the assessment prompt. Thinking about a conclusion or a summary. So, really thinking about those bookends of a typical, solid, academic writing would include.


KACY: I love that, and I think that such a great reminder for all of us is that, you know all your Writing Instructors, we’re writers, too, right? So we are struggling with the same kinds of things that we’re commenting on. But I also think it makes us very uniquely qualified to provide some, what I hope our students see as, really helpful feedback. Because we do know exactly what they’re going through. You mentioned talking about some different, not necessarily templates per say, but remembering those formats of having an introduction and having a conclusion, and those different transitions. I’m curious, are there templates for Tempo writing assignments? I know we have some for some other programs and that they are just really, really helpful.


AMY: Yeah! And that’s something I meant to mention as well is that, especially for the short answer assessments that I’ve done, each of them will typically have their own template that the student actually needs to work within. So, they may have the short prompts, some space for student response, and then a rubric right after that short response. So, that’s actually also a really great way to check, you know, your own responses and check your own writing, making sure that it aligns with the rubric. That’s really just right there. I’ve found that to be very helpful. When it comes to some of the longer assignments, I have sometimes seen templates, but not always. So, that would be another resource just for students to know about, is that if you’ve been asked to write a longer work, maybe a five-seven-page paper, as part of your assessment, and there is no template provided, we do have some on the Writing Center website. The thing that’s really nice about them is they’re set up with the overall APA formatting and, for example, the title page is all set up for you, the reference list area is all set up with the correct formatting. So those can be a great way to save a little time, and, you know, have that all kind of prepared for you.


KACY: Definitely. I love our templates. I think APA can be one of those things that gives writers a little bit of a headache, so, we have those templates to try to help out, you know, as much as possible with those kinds of nit-picky and really technical things.


AMY: Mhmm.


KACY: So, do you have any general writing advice? Or specific writing advice for that matter? To share with our Walden Tempo students? From your perspective as both a student and a Writing Instructor?


AMY: Yeah, a couple of things come to mind. One is that the competency-based model, which is Tempo, you know, is really unique because it allows you to demonstrate some of the knowledge that you already have. So I know that a lot of students may be coming in to a program with a lot of knowledge. For example, when I started my program, there were initial competencies on theories of child development and working with exceptional learners, and competency areas that a student might already have a breadth of knowledge on. And so, one thing to just keep in mind is that if you’re able to bring in your knowledge and personal experience from previous learning that you have done, that’s great. I would say one thing to do is to balance your personal knowledge and experience with evidence. So, you know, even if you feel like you could answer the question no problem, just based on what you already have in your head, and the wealth of knowledge and experience you have, that’s fantastic—I would just say, from a writing perspective, thinking about how can I really show the reader that I am writing about, you know, evidence-based information? And that would be by citing evidence from a published source. So, you know, even if you’re feeling like, oh, you really have a great handle on the topic already, if you can look through the course resources and be able to cite those, that’s a great way to demonstrate or to show that you’re writing is based on the published literature.

Maybe as a final point, I would note that when creating responses for an assessment, a lot of students are really focusing on the content and the analysis and the application of the content for that competency. One thing that’s kind of easy to overlook, you know as we’re really focusing on the content, is some of the minor grammar, spelling, those kinds of errors. So, keeping in mind to try out or use a proofreading strategy or two, can be especially helpful. We have a whole list of them on our website that I use and guide students to on a regular basis. So, just building in an extra chunk of time, as well as the very intentional practice of proofreading, can make a bit difference.


KACY: That’s always a great piece of advice, just giving yourself that little bit of extra time to re-read your writing and make sure you don’t have any of those embarrassing typos. I know I have definitely sent out in email or things like that. Thank you for all your wonderful advice, Amy. This has been so interesting to learn about the Tempo program. Do you have any other final comments for our listeners?


AMY: You know I guess one thing to note would be that our Paper Review Service is available to Tempo students. Tempo students working on any writing assignment are welcome to sign up in our myPASS system and make an appointment with one of our professional Writing Instructors. We can definitely help with any of the variety of assignments that we’ve talked about today. So, whether it be getting some feedback on those short answer assessments and wanting to find out some tips, or even if you’re trying out the MEAL plan and want to see how it’s working, we can provide feedback on that. If you’re working on a longer draft, we certainly can provide some feedback and instruction as well. So, something to keep in mind—that getting some feedback, getting just a second read on your writing for clarity, for APA or a specific writing issue that you’d like us to focus on in Paper Review Appointments, we are very happy to help with that.


KACY: Absolutely. And thank you so much again, Amy, for being on WriteCast today! We will include some links to these resources in our show notes, including the blog post Amy mentioned about using the MEAL plan for those short answer assessments. So thanks again, Amy, for joining us, I really had a great time talking with you today.


AMY: Thanks so much, Kacy!


KACY: Lastly, before we end today, we wanted to give you a heads-up about something new we’re going to be trying this summer. Our first book club episode! We’ll be discussing the book How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing by Paul Silvia. So you can read along, if you’re interested, and email us at if you have any questions or topics you’d like us to cover in that episode. And, of course, if you’re unable to read, you can just tune-in for some interesting tid-bits from Silvia’s text. So thanks again, for listening, and...until next time, keep writing, keep inspiring!




KACY: WriteCast is a monthly podcast produced by the Walden University Writing Center. Visit our online Writing Center at Find more WriteCast episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn or your favorite podcast app. We would love to hear from you. Connect with us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and at Thanks for listening!